Ayesha Hazarika – 'In America, satire is having a golden era because of Trump...In Britain we're not cracking it'
- Brian Donaldson
- 12 July 2017
From comedian to Labour's special advisor and back again, the stand-up comic argues the political mess we're in should be throwing up better satire
The old Harold Wilson quote that 'a week is a long time in politics' could probably have its timescale revised these days to 'about every ten minutes'. Ayesha Hazarika, the Lanarkshire-born comedian and former advisor to Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband, knows this more than most. Early preview shows of her State of the Nation needed to be torn up in April when May chose June for a snap election, and by the time Hazarika's Edinburgh Fringe dates come around, her guess will be as good as anybody's on who might actually be in residence at No 10.
While her show will no doubt need some tweaking before mid-August, there are sections which form a solid bedrock and will be unaffected whether the PM's surname at that point is May, Foster, Johnson or Corbyn (or anyone else you care to throw into the mix). 'I try to make a wider point about why British politics has found itself in this mess, and talk about my own journey in the Labour Party,' she says. 'One of the reasons we're in this slightly mad place is that politics is out of touch with the country. When I was a special advisor, there weren't many women, or people who weren't from London or from an ethnic or working-class background. It was a mono culture.'
Despite the apparently rich seam of farce in contemporary British politics, Hazarika feels that UK satirists still lag behind their comic cousins across the pond. 'In America, satire is having a golden era because of Trump. The Saturday Night Live stuff with Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer is the best thing I've seen in my life. In Britain we're not cracking it, probably because satire isn't simply making cheap jokes about someone saying he's a wanker or she's a whatever; it's about capturing them while making a political argument.'
While Hazarika will be making plenty points in Edinburgh, you wonder whether she might be looking beyond the Fringe and harbouring ambitions to re-enter the fray as a potential candidate. 'In one of my preview shows there was a Daily Mail reporter and they said "well, why don't you stand?" I have tried in the past and wanted to be an MP a while ago, but sadly that ship may have sailed. I really enjoyed being an advisor to Ed and Harriet, but now I'm a political commentator and feel lucky to have a say in politics and get to talk about what I think is important.'
The worlds of politics and comedy do have some similarities (the rabid egos tempered by massive insecurity, the professional envy, having to deal with public heckling), but in general, any negative feelings towards comedians are nothing compared to the torrents of abuse thrown at politicians. Hazarika feels that such blanket antagonistic attitudes from the public and media are largely undeserved and potentially unhelpful.
'As someone who is open to laughing at myself and at politics, I think you have to be careful about not having absolute contempt for politicians,' she insists. 'You can get a cheap and easy laugh to say that they're all corrupt idiots but if you keep doing that then you can easily end up with the politics you deserve. I have friends all across the divide and most politicians are actually really good people; most of them are in it to do some good.'
Ayesha Hazarika: State of the Nation, Gilded Balloon at the Museum, Lothian Street, 14–20 Aug, 7.30pm, £10–£12 (£9–£11).